Meyer said some people saw the PCC as a “fox in charge of the henhouse”
The newspaper industry itself must take the blame for failing to successfully promote self-regulation to the Government and to the general public, according to the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission.
Sir Christopher Meyer, who moved into his office in Salisbury Square this week, believes newspapers could be doing more to change some people’s perception that “it’s like the fox being in charge of the henhouse”.
Despite the impressive efforts of his predecessor, Lord Wakeham, acting chairman Robert Pinker and director Guy Black, Meyer said a significant problem the PCC still faced was that people didn’t know enough about it.
“And I actually blame the newspaper industry for that, to a degree. One of the ways of correcting this knowledge deficit is if newspapers themselves give more publicity to its work.”
In his first interview, on his second day in office, Meyer gave an impassioned defence of the current system – although he did not rule out the possibility of further audits of the commission’s decisions, provided they were “generated from within the framework of self-regulation”.
Editors, including The Independent’s Simon Kelner and The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, have suggested an ombudsman could be appointed to scrutinise some rulings. “This is one of the things I really will want to talk to people about,” said Meyer, who stressed he would consult widely before making any decisions.
“I don’t think the editors in question mean this – but if it’s going to turn out to be state regulation by the back door, in an Ofcom type of way, this is death to self-regulation, and I would be very strongly opposed to it.”
But he warned that adding another layer to the system would require a trade-off. “One of the things that’s most attracted me to the PCC is that it’s unbureaucratic, extremely speedy in the way it deals with complaints, and transparent. If you do start to have a backstop, or an audit or a higher ombudsman or something like that, you’re going to lose some of these qualities. So, yeah, let’s look at it. I haven’t reached a judgement at all on this, but I’m very conscious of the current qualities of the PCC and I’d hate to see them lost in some way.”
Meyer, who left Washington last month after six years as US Ambassador, will spend part of his first few weeks touring the country – initially to Scotland, the North West, the Midlands, East Anglia and Northern Ireland – talking to editors. Among other things, he will ask them whether the PCC could be more proactive in the way it looks at complaints.
Many criticisms of the PCC were ill-informed, he said. He was concerned by hostility in some government circles, but Meyer – a former press secretary to John Major – would not be drawn over Gerald Kaufman’s media select committee. “It’s had its ups and downs. They’ll make a report. We’ll look at it and come to a conclusion.”
Full Meyer interview next week
By Ian Reeves